A is for Ant: Keeping Ants Out of the Classroom (Part 2)

Close-up of ant feeding.

Close-up of ant feeding.

By Marcia Anderson

The Benefits of Ants in classrooms. Ants have been observed and documented as good examples for humans for their hard work and cooperation since the dawn of history. Lessons abound in literature, such as: The Ant and the Grasshopper, one of Aesop’s Fables and they are in Hopi mythology. More recent literature includes: A Tramp Abroad, by Mark Twain, Departmental by Robert Frost, The Once and Future King by T.H. White and H.G. Wells’ The Empire of the Ants.

Kids easily relate to ants, just think about all of the 3-D animated films that have been produced: Antz, A Bug’s Life, The Ant and the Aardvark and Atom ant. Can you recall playing the award winning video game Sim Ant in the early 1990s? Many other games and science fiction insectoids have followed since. However, other than in literature, history, mathematics and art, ants are best kept outdoors.

In an earlier blog, I presented information on keeping ants out of the classroom schools and the importance of a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach for their management known as Integrated Pest Management or IPM. Here are some additional tactics to round out a good ant IPM plan:

Sanitation. Sanitation eliminates the food that ants need to survive. Get rid of their food and you get rid of the ant problem. If children regularly receive meals in classrooms, those floors should be vacuumed and/or mopped daily. Make sure that all sinks are drained and clean by the end of the day. Periodically give all food preparation areas an all-inclusive cleaning, focusing on areas where grease and food debris accumulate. These include drains, vents, stoves, and hard-to-reach areas behind or between appliances. At the end of each day, remove all garbage containing food from the building.

Ants follow pheromone trails and reinforce them as they walk.

Ants follow pheromone trails and reinforce them as they walk.

Proper Food Storage. An ant infestation may indicate a need to change current methods of storing food or food waste. All food should be kept in the refrigerator or stored in pest-proof containers with lids that close tightly. As soon as food arrives in the building transfer it into clear plastic or glass containers. Do not leave food in cardboard boxes and paper as they are not ant or roach-proof. Outdoor refuse containers should be emptied and washed regularly and recyclables should be cleaned before storage.

How are ants able to follow one another around? They leave pheromone trails as they walk and each ant reinforces the trail as they head back to the colony with food. Detergent and water is an easy and safe way to eliminate this trail and the ant followers. When ants invade a classroom or food preparation area, an emergency treatment is detergent and water in a spray bottle. This mixture will quickly erase the trail and immobilize the ants. They can be wiped up with a sponge and washed down the drain.

For tougher problems, where non-chemical methods haven’t solved the problem, integrating ant baits, traps or other low-impact pesticides into your management program may be warranted. For information on ant control in schools go to: http://www.sites.ext.vt.edu/schoolipm/ipmtechniques/documents/ants.pdf .

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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